By Ted Fleming
This Sunday is the first day of the rest of the Panthers’ season and a whole lot is riding on its outcome. After a week off to collect their thoughts, they will host the Cowboys in what could best be described as a must win or as fullback Mike Tolbert said, “It’s crunch time. So we’ve got to get it done.”
Carolina is clearly underachieving at 1-4. Dallas is 2-3 and that does not sit well with owner Jerry Jones, who could very well blow up the entire organization if his team fails to make the playoffs. For both clubs, the word “desperate” is on the tip of everyone’s tongue.
The Panthers have dropped three straight and are sinking fast. With the exception of the running game – they are 13th in the NFL – all other offensive categories (points, yards and passing yards) have slipped to 22nd or lower. All this from a team that was able to put up points with shocking regularity in 2011.
You can forget the defensive rankings of the teams they will face after this weekend; the schedule is against them. Four of the six games thereafter are on the road, were they are currently winless, and only one–the Buccaneers at home–is against a division rival.
That is not a good place to be when two teams are ahead of you and the third is capable of running the table over the same span. The Saints, also 1-4, may have found their mojo again with a win before their bye and quarterback Drew Brees is on another one of his unconscious rolls throwing for 816 yards in his last two contests.
The Panthers will have to dig deep into their bag of tricks if not their souls if they are going to make their fans believe they can salvage anything out of a season that is, so far, lost. This is not a case of trying to catch the unbeaten Falcons. To think they can is like a dog chasing his tail. The task at hand is the Cowboys and trying to frustrate them even more than they are now.
On the offensive side, they bolstered the center position by signing Clemson standout Thomas Austin to take the spot left vacant by a season ending injury to starter Ryan Kalil. He was on the Patriots’ practice squad, but was a free agent after being waived earlier this month.
Quarterback Cam Newton may have someone new sliding him the ball but once he get is he has to get over his own inconsistencies and protect the ball better. He has been picked four times and lost a fumble so as he goes, so does the rest of the team.
The defense is improved and if they are going to disrupt the Cowboys they have to get in Tony Romo’s face. He has thrown nine interceptions including at least one in each game this season as well as losing a couple of fumbles. With leading rusher DeMarco Murray likely out for the game, Romo will have to throw more and the turnover factor increases exponentially.
The Panthers may be catching them at the right time but the Cowboys are a wounded team that could be out for blood themselves. The threat of having no job security could make Dallas a very dangerous team on Sunday.
For more Local Football Bloggers and the latest Panthers news, see CBS Sports Charlotte.
Ted Fleming is a freelance writer covering all things Carolina Panthers. His work can be found on Examiner.com.